Johannesburg, South Africa–It is not easy being a George W. Bush-supporter in South Africa. The presidential election contest stirred strong passions here.
Local newspapers were eager to tell Americans to vote for John Kerry.
The editor of the Financial Mail, the premier business magazine, wrote of “a universal sense of dread among South Africans of all political persuasions that George W Bush may be returned to the White House.” The Sowetan tabloid declared that Americans were “on trial” and could only “redeem themselves” by voting Kerry. Trade union federation COSATU demonstrated outside the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town, calling on “all free and peace loving people to stand with us as we work towards removing George Bush from power.”
Reactions to the result were similarly hysterical. Headlines included “God save America from itself,” “‘Texas Twit’ wins, humanity loses,” and “US gives world finger.”
The Star reported, “South Africans are bemoaning a black day for the world and its poorest continent–Africa–as George Bush gets ready for another term in office.”
Some positives did emerge, such as Business Day, which argued sensibly, “As Africans, we have little to fear in a Bush victory. He has been good to us on trade, on AIDS and–in backing his secretary of state in describing the events in Darfur, Sudan, as a genocide–morally as well.”
Despite the anti-Western inclinations of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), President Thabo Mbeki has astutely avoided taking public sides in American politics. He has a cooperative relationship with President Bush that dates back to a prescient visit to him in his Texas governor days.
The government’s union and Communist allies challenge its diplomatic stance on America, and the ANC itself is schizophrenic on this front. When President Bush visited in 2003, the ANC was officially a part of the demonstrations against him, yet at the same time President Mbeki rolled out the red carpet and exchanged with him kind words.
Part of the anti-Bush sentiment derives from the appallingly biased coverage of American actions, especially in Iraq. There is also a racial element, indulged even by former President Nelson Mandela, who portrayed “black” Iraq as the victim of “white” America. According to an editorial in the Sowetan, “had [UN Secretary General] Annan been white, the attack would not have been carried out without a UN resolution.” Such nonsense flourishes amongst those inclined to project internal rages onto a foreign dispute.
General attitudes to America are complex, with many inconsistencies and indeed hypocrisy. The products of American culture are pervasive in South Africa, generating both admiration and envy.
Intellectual anti-Americanism is fed by left-wing thinking from within America itself, especially Noam Chomsky’s portrayal of his country as a rogue, terrorist state.
My view is that Americans should be congratulated for rejecting the slippery slope of moral relativism and endorsing Bush’s steadfast leadership. He has risen, like Truman in his plainspoken way, to tackle the worldwide challenge of radical Islam that many refuse to recognize. An apt comparison is to 1930s England, where the chattering classes lauded Neville Chamberlain and reviled Winston Churchill as a dangerous warmonger.
America does not need to be liked in the world. It should try to be understood, but it is more essential to be respected in its use of power, unconstrained by a dysfunctional United Nations.
There are increasing fault-lines in Africa where radical Islam threatens, as in Sudan and the northern Nigerian states. Top officials are concerned by an al Qaeda presence in the small Muslim community in South Africa. The police chief disclosed a plot to disrupt our own elections last year, and two local Muslims were detained in Pakistan after a shoot-out at the house of an al Qaeda suspect.
As the shared enemy becomes more apparent, the wisdom of the Bush Doctrine will win the necessary friends in the long slog ahead. Please ignore the insults, and stay the course, even if for an ungrateful world.
–Jack Bloom is an elected member of the Gauteng provincial legislature, where he is chief whip for the opposition Democratic Alliance. The views here expressed are his own.